Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Translator Perspectives on MT & Technology In General

I found an interesting series of blog posts by Christelle Maignon that I thought articulated translator perspectives on MT and the increasing use of technology in translation work very well. She herself was driven away from translation work towards coaching because PEMT was just not her cup of tea from what I could gather. Anyway I thought it would be good to highlight her work in case you are not aware of her blog.

Some posts that readers of this blog may also find interesting are listed below:

Why machine translation creates so much anger and how to deal with it

This post references Dr K├╝bler-Ross study of grief. She describes the five stages of emotions which are experienced by people who are approaching death or dealing with the death of a loved one. Her model was widely accepted and it was found to be valid for other forms of losses, as well as situations relating to change (for instance, the loss of a job or of a familiar way of doing things). Her model has been used as a change management tool by businesses across the world.

I have written about this as well in the past referencing this link  but it is good to get a real translators perspective which interestingly uses the death and grief cycle as a reference.

Disruptive Change graphic

Another post describes the widespread use of MT based on presentation by Stefan Gentz and is one the most popular posts on her blog.

What Does The Future Hold For Translators?

I find the reaction and interpretation by a translator interesting though I don’t really see how MT is taking work away from translators or the professional translation industry. MT mostly translates stuff that would never get translated were it not possible to do it with MT.

Another that I found interesting is:

Riding The Wave Of Technological Change As A Translator

Or Future Proofing Your Career As A Translator

I think there is lots of useful information for translators on her site, and while I am regularly reminded that I am not a translator and should not be telling translators how to do what they do, I will dare to say that many will find useful information here.

I truly hope that my highlighting her blog here raises her profile and does not have a negative reaction from some who might see this as an endorsement from MT advocates.

I have not been very active in the last few months but I have a new series of ideas that I will start writing on again shortly.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving vacation for those of you who celebrate this.

Let what comes come.
Let what goes go.
Find out what remains.

—  Ramana Maharshi

Himalayan view

Four Steps to Uncover New Business Opportunities (as a Translation Project Manager!)

 This is a guest post by Romina Kohei. She is the co-founder of GliderPath, a SaaS product that helps translation companies owners run and grow their business, and of GliderPath Academy, an online learning platform for translation & localization professionals. She is the founder of Cool Project Management, a website where I aim to give information to help people get started in project management, excel in leadership and venture into entrepreneurship.
Romina is originally from Rosario, Argentina and has lived in Czech Republic for the past six years. Romina has more than 10 years of experience in the translation and localization industry, having worked in various project management and sales positions prior to starting her own endeavor with GliderPath.
Romina Kohei
All opinions and statements are hers and I have not edited or changed them in any way. Her Twitter handle is @GliderPath
For many years I believed project managers did not need sales skills. I was not very fond of the image of the car salesman that appeared in my head every time someone mentioned “sales skills” to me and, because of that; I was not very interested in developing sales skills as a project manager. I thought my focus was to deliver my project according the triple constraint, good quality, on time, on budget. I was trained that way, after all. My view of Sales has evolved from those early beginnings… and later on I was able to see it as a more collaborative and mutually beneficial process.

Why sales in project management?

You may have noted, however, that throughout PM training we may never come across any mention on sales or improving our sales skills. This is a shame. Now I can tell you: as project manager, it has to be part of your game. In fact, selling should be part of our project management strategy. Why is that? I’ll get to it in a minute.

First, let me tell you about the realization I had as soon as I moved from production to sales. I realized that a big part of the sales process is in the hand of the project manager! That’s right. As project managers we spend more time with the client when we manage a project than the sales people will ever spend. Most importantly, we are responsible for the customer experience they will have.

Having realized that, I looked back and noticed I was not aware I was selling all the time when I managed projects in organizations. I was selling myself and my experience as a brand, I was selling when consulting with the client, I was selling when delivering a project.

So, since it’s going to happen anyway, the best you can do it so make a conscious effort and incorporate a few techniques that will assist you, not only in your everyday work, but also in working with the sales people of your company to help them close deals. To help your company bring in new business by uncovering opportunities with existing clients you don’t have to become a sales person.

You just need to know how to have a sales conversation and follow a process that facilitates relationship-building with clients. So let me give you...

An easily reproducible 4-step process

There is a really easy to follow 4-step process to have a natural sales conversation using these skills.
When it comes to structuring your conversations, I suggest using the approach developed by Neil Rackham as outlined in his book SPIN selling. It is a four-part question framework to use when talking to clients. It goes like this:
1. Situation questions
These questions help you learn about the client’s current situation. For example: what’s your current budget for translation/localization? What are your plans for the year? (Only ask one or two of this questions, it’s likely that the sales person in your company has already asked tons of these. If you have the info, you can bring it up in conversations with your client to learn more.)
2. Problem questions
These are questions that will clarify your client’s pain points. Here is where you will shine. As project manager, and being in constant contact with the client and working on their projects, have and ongoing relationship with the client and you are uniquely qualified to know exactly what ask, to get information on needs, desires and new requirements from your everyday conversations or your post-projects reviews. You can ask questions like: what is currently not working with the current solutions you have in place? What problems are you facing when outsourcing your translation/localization projects?

With these questions, you want to define the problem they are facing so you can focus on the implications of this problem and how you can help.

With these first two steps, you have already tons of valuable information you can share with your sales team. This will definitely help them move forward doing what they do best, but you don’t have to stop there, you can go on to the following two steps.
3. Implication questions
These are meant to make your client aware of the implications that stem from the problem they are facing. These questions are based on information you uncovered on your previous steps. Some examples could be: How does this issue affect your budget? What is the impact this has on the productivity of your team? What’s the impact this problem has on the quality of your own internal deliverables in your company? The purpose of these questions is to help your clients to gain some perspective and frame the problem that they are facing in their minds. You help them get a sense of urgency for it.

For example: Your client’s content writers are not taking into account localization and are generating content that is difficult to understand and takes longer to translate. This has an impact on budget, time, probably some management issues internally. You can help them, through questions, to understand the real impact this is having. You can then, move on to the final set of questions.
4. Need-payoff questions
These questions focus attention on your solution and get the clients to think about the benefits of addressing this problem with you. These questions should stem from the implication questions you asked earlier, and can include: How do you feel this solution can help you? What type of impact would this have on your budget/team productivity/internal deliverables if we were to implement this within the next X months?

The SPIN question model is a natural progression. You can safely use it in your regular conversations with your clients, in your weekly or monthly meetings or in your post-project review meetings.

The best part? Your clients will love you for it because you are helping them solve problems… and, so will your sales team, because you are helping them close sales. That’s a lot of love for you there, while you are incorporating invaluable skills for you.

So going back to our initial question, then:

Why selling should be part of our project management strategy?

Well, because one of the best - and easiest - ways to increase revenue and profitability is to sell more to existing clients.

Let me repeat that: one of the best - and easiest - ways to increase revenue and profitability is to sell more to existing clients. And you, as project manager, know the existing client the best.

It’s your turn now. Go out there and start having awesome conversations with your clients!

If you would like to know more about this topic, check our latest video here.

Choosing the right people for your projects

This is a guest post by Romina Kohei. She is the co-founder of GliderPath, a SaaS product that helps translation companies owners run and grow their business, and of GliderPath Academy, an online learning platform for translation & localization professionals. She is the founder of Cool Project Management, a website where I aim to give information to help people get started in project management, excel in leadership and venture into entrepreneurship.

Romina is originally from Rosario, Argentina and has lived in Czech Republic for the past six years. Romina has more than 10 years of experience in the translation and localization industry, having worked in various project management and sales positions prior to starting her own endeavor with GliderPath.
Romina Kohei
All opinions and statements are hers and I have not edited or changed them in any way. Her Twitter handle is @GliderPath
What’s the best way for agencies and freelancers to interact?

There’s nothing better than an agency-freelancer relationship that goes right. There is a mutual respect, with big wins for both sides, and there is the satisfaction of a job well done. These are all attractive treats.

Yet… we so often screw this up. Why?

During my career, I had the chance to work from both sides of the fence. But the largest part of my experience comes from project management. In this role, my responsibilities included selecting and interacting with freelancers. During the course of my work I had great, not so great, and downright terrible experiences with freelancers.

My main concerns were missing deadlines, unresponsiveness and poor quality, of course. But I have to admit that I have too been guilty for my fair share of blunders when dealing with freelancers.

Where does it get so complicated?  In my experience, the issues usually start with misaligned values and unmet expectations. And here lies the problem. The agency and the freelancer usually expect different things from the collaboration. They tend to place value on different things as well.

From the freelancer’s perspective...
  • It is important that their effort is valued. They are not treated as a commodity. And they have a point! There are tons of talented and prolific freelancers out there who have a wealth of diverse knowledge and experience. They know how to bring it home when working on a project.
  • They value companies that act professional. And they define professionalism as respect. They prefer working with agencies that respect previous agreements on rates and availability, and that provide appropriate support.  And, of course, they prefer agencies that pay on time. And can you blame them?
From the agency’s perspective…
  • Quality is the obvious mandatory requirement. It is the norm, and yet sometimes it is easy to forget that quality must be defined. Quality requirements can vary from client to client and even from project to project.
  • Price is always a factor of course, but should never be the top priority for a good agency. Yet, it is extremely valuable that the freelancer is flexible enough. Just in case push comes to shove and a there is a need to renegotiate.
Finally, there are two important factors that both freelance translators and agencies value. They are:
  • Having a trusting relationship
  • Great communication
Is there a chance to bridge that misalignment? Certainly! How? There is one simple answer to that question.

It’s all about communication!

Communication plays a major role in the cooperation process.

· While negotiating specific project details.
· When communicating with the project manager; or other team members throughout a project.
· Also during the post-project review; specifically in situations when changes or inquiries have to be discussed, or when giving feedback.

Great communication will also benefit the agency. When the channels of communication are open, it is easier for the freelancer to provide the agency with feedback, comments or solutions for different issues or situations.

The agency must lead the way by example. The project managers should also be open for communication and discussion. This will show the way to open communication.
This is also how great partnerships are formed. Good communication builds trust as well.

Communication and trust are the keys to creating an ongoing and fruitful freelancer-agency relationship.

Good communication acts as a fail-safe against misunderstood expectations. It helps to prevent incorrect assumptions. It’s important to never assume that the other understands what they have to do just because it’s a given.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” - Bernard Shaw
To get the work done, both the agency and the freelancer have to be on the same page. How do you accomplish that? Here are 3 steps easy to remember:

1. Develop Some Communication Rules

You can save yourself lots of problems if you develop some communication rules.
You can agree on availability time for calls if you are located in different time zones, for example.  You can also agree on an acceptable delay in answering emails.  We all know it’s not nice to sit by the phone or the computer waiting for an answer. If you are going to ask for progress reports, it is a good idea to agree on their time and frequency.

By the way, years of working both as a freelancer and with freelancers have taught me that written communication is the best! Yes, it does take a lot of time to put everything in writing; but at least for the major decisions about a project this should be a must. Sometimes there are language barriers that you have to consider.

Regardless, the truth is that you can never be sure if what you try to communicate is being received by the other in the way that you intended it. With oral communication, misunderstandings are common. It is also very easy to forget what was agreed. These problems, either accidental or on purpose, are gone when you can go back to the written message to double check.

2. No Need for Total Control

Micromanagement doesn’t work. More often than not, it is a waste of time and effort.
Freelancers usually love having more freedom. Be prepared to give them their task and hear from them once a day.

Of course, you can adjust this depending on your project and your needs. But better than total control is to go back to step one and set some ground rules and expectations.

And while we are on this topic: there is something as too much communication. Don’t waste time with meaningless communication. Keep your communication efficient and to the point. No need for endless Skype calls or emails every hour. Freelancers are usually efficiency-oriented; and for them time really is money.

3. Plan with milestones

Milestones and progress reporting are common sense in project management. These prevent unpleasant surprises just before the deadline.

If your project is small then you might not need them. For large projects, it's too risky to get started without milestones and rules for progress reporting. Progress reporting rules will eliminate many delays and help to early diagnose potential problems.

Make sure you have your project plan ready before you hire. Don’t have freelancers in downtime waiting for you to get your plan together. By the same token, you should plan around potential lack of availability too.

Communicating your expectations for deadlines and availability can prevent major issues from the start.

Effective communication with freelancers will help you avoid frustration, lost time, and lost money.

The Lesson

Invest in the relationship with your freelancers.
This will help you share with them a deeper understanding of your motivations, objectives and working practices.

If you focus on creating a sustainable partnership, you will build trust, confidence, recognition and ultimately, loyalty.

Happy freelancer, happy agency, happy clients.

How do you choose freelancers? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!

If you would like to know more about the topic, check out our last masterclass on GliderPath Academy for free! Find it here:

Friday, May 8, 2015

Compensation for Post-Editing MT All Comes Down to Compromise

This is a guest post to provide an alternate and independent perspective on issues I have discussed in this blog. It is unedited and may or may not be consistent with my own views, but I think it is always useful to hear other views on these issues. I invite others who may wish to share their opinions on these MT related issues to also voice their opinions, especially those with very different views. I have added very few clarifications (in italics). My own views are outlined in this recent post and this older post which is still one of the most popular posts on this blog.

With thanks to @MattBramowicz for this submission.
If you ask a professional translator, chances are they will tell you that they’ve been requested at one time or another to provide post-editing or revisions for machine-translated text. When this happens, more often than not many translators either begrudgingly accept or refuse the project altogether.
This can be attributed to 2 main reasons:

  1. The machine-translated text is not very accurate, to begin with, resulting in sometimes more work and time to decipher the text than it would take to translate it outright.
  2. The rates to post-edit are oftentimes significantly less than the translator’s normal translation rates.
As technology progresses, so do the methodologies for translation practices. Of course, technology is not just instantaneously perfect. It takes time to develop, improve, and advance until it is if not perfect, at least to a level that is efficiently satisfactory. At this moment in time, machine translation is in its “needs improvement” phase. While the accuracy has come a long way since its inception decades ago, with some languages being translated more accurately than others, it has still not reached a level that would be deemed “good”. However, for it to improve, it must still be a technology that is utilized so that there is a need to warrant the time and energy it would take to improve its process.

While many translators may refuse to provide post-editing services, the fact remains the need for the service is at an all-time high. Whether there are platforms created for mobile app translations, website content management systems, or even standardized document content formatted for machine translation, there are many resources that are utilizing the ubiquitous nature of web development to promote the post-editing or “hybrid” method of translation services. Therefore, translators could and should be more open to the process.

That being said, in no way should translators be “exploited” for their services either. There should be a compromise between translation service providers and translators to ensure fair pay is given for quality work.

For a compromise to take place, both sides must understand the other’s concerns and needs. Since we’ve already established the translator’s concerns, let’s go over the translation service providers’:
Hybrid translation is usually offered as a cost-saving method to the client to provide translation services for items that either would not have been translated in the first place
  1. due to the content not being of utmost importance, or there is too much text and the client wouldn’t be able to afford professional translation for it.
  2. Hybrid translation is usually offered as less than perfect translation method, not as good as professional translation, but still much better than mere (raw) machine translation.
  3. For reasons 1 and 2, the rate they charge the client is much less than for professional translation, so the budget for translators is much lower.
Now that we know both sides, the trick is to find a solution so that all parties’ needs are met.
For starters, we can look at post-editing translation jobs as opportunities for translators to make a little extra money on projects that for all intents and purposes came about thanks to hybrid translation being an option. Therefore, translation service providers can categorize these types of projects as such, and create a separate list of available translators who are willing to make themselves available to work on these from time to time as a means to earn some extra income. That way, TSP’s are only contacting translators who are willing participants in these projects. Likewise, TSP’s can and should keep more than the usual amount of translators on file for these types of projects, so if a translator is too busy to work on a certain project, they can decline without feeling pressured into taking it because the TSP has no one else available.

Second, while translators will have to work at a lower rate than ordinary for these projects, they should still be given a rate commensurate with the work involved. Translation Service Providers should set a rate at or close to the proofreading rate of translators. While the margins may not as be as profitable as professional translation service orders, the quantity of orders placed by clients should make up for it, provided the outcome is good enough quality that they want to order again. The best way to ensure that is the case is to pay the translators enough so that they feel compelled to do the best job they can. 

Also, deadlines should be reasonably set so that translators are able to work on these projects in between their traditional and more lucrative projects. However, many TSP’s tend to offer hybrid translation as a “speedy” translation service. While this can still be true, especially when formatting is taken out of the equation, they should still set reasonable deadlines with the client. If the client is in need of a rush delivery, TSP’s can offer a rush delivery surcharge option to the client, and pay the translator a little bit more for that particular project. If that isn’t an option, the project could be split between 2 or more translators in order to meet the deadline on time without putting too much strain on one translator.

Another option is for TSP’s to set up some sort of reward package for translators who consistently accept these projects and provide good services. For instance, for every 15 projects completed, let’s say, the translator receives a $50 bonus. While the amount may be relatively small, it still provides an incentive for the translators to accept as many projects as possible and it shows that the TSP appreciates their loyalty and hard work. 

Perhaps TSP’s could also pay translators an hourly rate instead of a per word rate. That way, for segments of text that are exceedingly difficult to decipher the meaning from, the translator is compensated fairly for their time. The only caveat for this option is that the end-user is usually charged a per word rate (since there’s no way of knowing how much time to charge them upfront). So there is a potential for the project to go over-budget if the time it takes to complete the translation is much longer than anticipated and surpasses the per word rate charged to the client. A possible solution to that issue would be to have the client agree to a clause that states the price they are given upfront is simply an estimate, and the final amount may be more. This is the traditional practice for services like auto repairs, home repairs, etc., and most other service-based industries, which translation services are most certainly a part of as well. However, for some reason, many clients don’t view it as such and are reticent to agree to such terms upfront.

While post-editing jobs may pay less than traditional translation projects in terms of word count, in some cases (depending on how the platform is set up and quality of machine translation), the process of post-editing can be completed much more quickly, and therefore result in a higher rate per hour than initially anticipated. In such cases, depending on the source text quantity, a translator can earn close to, if not the same rate, as traditional projects in a given time span. 

In the end, it all comes down to how the platform and post-editing process is set up by the TSP and the level of cooperation that can be achieved between the TSP and the translators.

About the Author
Matt Bramowicz is a content writer and graphic designer for Translation Cloud LLC (, a leading professional translation company located in Jersey City, NJ. You can follow him on Twitter: @MattBramowicz 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

How Translators Can Assess Post-Editing MT Opportunities

With the continued growth in the use of MT, it has become increasingly important for translators to understand better when it is worth getting involved, and when it is wise to stay away from post-editing opportunities that come their way. 

This is still a very fuzzy issue for most translators and I think it might be useful to share some information with them to highlight some of the key variables they could use to determine the most rational action given the facts at hand. For some, post-editing will never be palatable work, but for those who look more closely and see that PEMT is now just another variant of professional translation work that is much like other translation work, which can be economically advantageous when one is working with the right partners and the right technology in this case.  

We have seen that in the early days of MT use that there has been much cause for dissatisfaction all around, especially for translators who have been asked to post-edit sub-standard MT output for very low rates. Translators do need to be wary since many LSPs deploy MT technology without really understanding it, with the sole purpose of reducing costs, and with no understanding on how to produce systems that actually enable this lower cost scenario or interest in engaging translators in the process. Thus it is worth translators learning some basic discrimination skills to determine and establish some general guidelines to understand the relative standing of any PEMT opportunity that they are presented with.

The following checklist is a useful start (IMO) that every translator should consider when deciding what kinds of PEMT opportunities are worth working on.
  • Understand the very specific MT output that you will be working with as every MT engine is unique and assessments need to be made in reference to the actual output you will be working with.
  • Determine if the LSP understands what they are doing with the MT technology and can respond to feedback on error patterns. There are many “upload and pray” efforts nowadays that create very low-quality systems that are very hard to control and challenging for translators to work with.
  • Understand the MT technology that is being used as not all MT is equal. There are many variants and you should know what the key differences are. Systems that allow feedback and have more controls to correct errors after the MT engine has been built and accept ongoing corrective feedback will generally be better to work with.
  • Have a basic understanding of the MT methodology which means at least an overview of the rules-based and statistical approaches. This can give you a sense of what kind of feedback you can provide and also help you understand error patterns.
  • Understand that MT engine development is an evolutionary process rather than an instant solution that Google has led some of us to believe. Professional MT deployment is a molding process that evolves in quality through expert iteration and is typically done to tune an engine for a specific business purpose to help an ongoing high-volume translation production need. MT makes much less sense for random one-time use.
  • Understand the basic quality assessment metrics used with MT. BLEU scores are often bandied about with MT systems and often interpreted incorrectly. If you understand them you will always have a better sense of the reality of a situation as incompetent practitioners use and interpret these scores incorrectly all the time. The BLEU scores are only as good as the Test Sets used and so try and understand what makes a good Test Set as described in the link.
It is wise to use technology when and only if there is a clear benefit, and this is especially true with MT. An LSP should have a clear sense that the productivity of the translation project will be improved by using the technology otherwise it is detrimental in many ways. This means that there needs to be a clear idea of what typical translation project throughput is before and after the use of MT. And a trusted way to measure how MT might impact this productivity. 

  • Thus MT only makes sense when it boosts productivity or when it makes it possible to provide some kind of translation for material that would just not get translated otherwise.
  • Translators should also understand that lower rates are not necessarily bad if their throughput is appropriately higher.
  • Finally, MT error patterns tend to be consistent so it makes sense to approach corrections at a chunk level rather than an individual segment level. 

Much of the dissatisfaction with PEMT work is related to compensation. My post on PEMT compensation remains the most read post on this blog even though it is now 3 years old. But I think if you understand the specific MT output you are dealing with and it’s impact on your throughput you can make an informed decision.

It is wise to remember that a lower rate does not necessarily mean less overall compensation as the following totally hypothetical chart explains. (The productivity benefits are more likely to be shared less generously). The best LSPs will have an open and transparent process in setting this rate and translators will be involved to ensure that the rate is fair and reasonable and based on actual MT output quality rather than some arbitrarily lower rate “since we are suing MT”. Also, expect Romance language rates to be lower than tough-for-MT languages like Japanese and Korean if editing effort is used as a criterion for setting the rate.

Much of what I have covered here was presented in a Proz presentation that is still available as video (slides with voice) for those who want to see and hear more details of the summary presented in this post.

As a complete aside this is for those who think that Genetically Modified foods are harmless. Here is a quote from a biotech company leader that you might want to consider the next time you eat corn from a US supermarket:
“We have a greenhouse full of corn plants that produce anti-sperm antibodies.” ~ Mitch Hein, president of Epicyte, a California-based biotechnology company.

And to end on a cheery note, I was very impressed by the musicality of this song and thought others might want to hear it too.